Britain to watch ‘assisted suicide’ on TV for first time

A documentary screened on Sky Real Lives Wednesday night showed motor neurone disease sufferer Craig Ewert taking a lethal dose of drugs at the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland.

Mary Ewert told Sky News her husband was not tired of living - but faced a choice between death and suffering, or death.

"He at times felt depressed - and who would not, facing that fact that you had an incurable disease and there was absolutely nothing that could be done and, on top of it, the demise could be quite slow and quite uncomfortable?

"Many people would react to that with a sense of sadness, but that wasn't pervasive in his approach and, as I said, I think he had the idea all along that he could choose not to do this even when he arrived at Dignitas."

She added it was important for people to not judge her husband for his decision until they had seen the programme.

"Craig talks at length about all of this, he talks about his situation being one where his choice is between death and between suffering and death, and so, given those two choices, if he were to make a decision, he had to make a decision on which of those it would be for him.

"And in that instance, death - perhaps sooner than he would have chosen - was the logical choice."

The Prime Minister said the controversial issue of broadcasting an assisted suicide must be dealt with "sensitively and without sensationalism".

Speaking during Prime Minister's Questions, Gordon Brown said: "I hope broadcasters remember they have a wider duty to the general public."

Mr Brown reiterated his opposition to legalising assisted suicides in Britain, but accepted it was a "matter of conscience".

The Right to Die? programme, showed Mr Ewert drinking a fatal dose of barbiturates, which have been prescribed by a local doctor.

Within 30 minutes of the overdose he is dead.

Before making the journey, he said: "If I go through with it I die, as I must at some point.

"If I don't go through with it, my choice is essentially to suffer and to inflict suffering on my family and then die.

"Possibly in a way that is considerably more stressful and painful than this way."

Mr Ewert, who lived in Harrogate, feared the disease would end up choking him to death.

Assisted suicide is legal in Switzerland with certain conditions. But it is illegal in Britain.

The programme came as a coroner recorded a verdict of suicide following the death of another British man at Dignitas.

Paralysed rugby player Daniel James, 23, was injured when a scrum collapsed on him. The promising hooker lost the use of all of his limbs.

According to his parents, Mr James found his life unbearable. They helped him travel to Zurich in September this year.

The Director of Public Prosecutions has decided not to pursue a case against the couple.

Dignitas was set up by Ludwig Minelli, a lawyer who rarely gives interviews. He said a dignified death is a human right.

The clinic has helped more than 100 people from Britain to end their lives.

But, to some religious and ethical groups, assisted suicide is wrong.
Dr Rob George, from Care Not Killing, said Mr Ewert's death was barbaric and that "a natural death is nothing to fear".

"The vast majority of patients with motor neurone disease do not have a choking, unpleasant, suffocating death. That's just not true. So I feel sad and quite angry about that. This man need not have gone through this."

(Article by: Thomas Moore, health correspondent for Sky News)